In Honor of Memorial Day

Today we remember those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of our country; further, we honor all who have served in our armed forces. In light of Memorial Day, today’s post is in honor of Kenneth Roberts and his service to the United States.  During WWI, Roberts served in the Siberian Expeditionary Force in 1918-1919 as Captain in the Intelligence Service. The picture below (obtained from here) is of Roberts’ headstone. Interestingly, though Roberts was a diehard Maine native, he chose not to be buried in his beloved state, but as a soldier in Arlington Cemetery (West, 1962, p. 99).

Kenneth Roberts' Headstone at Arlington Cemetery.

Kenneth Roberts’ Headstone at Arlington Cemetery. Courtesy Ron Williams.

Kenneth Roberts on the Web: QuaintBookShop.com

Collectors of Kenneth Roberts’ works will soon have another online book store to peruse for Roberts collectibles. Quaint Book Shop is an online book store that specializes in out-of-print and antiquarian books. According to their “About” page:

Quaint Book Shop is an online shop with a select inventory of used, out-of-print and antiquarian books on a wide range of subjects. Specialties include American national, regional and local history, limited and first edition books of Kenneth Roberts, vintage young adult chapter books and children’s illustrated books, particularly Little Golden Book first editions.

We provide complete descriptions of each book and pictures of many. We do not use stock images; the images are of the actual book. If you have any questions about any book listed, require further information on a book’s state or condition or would like additional photographs, feel free to contact us.

Quaint Book Shop even has a page dedicated to Kenneth Roberts’ works, including his works prior to his historical novels. As of today, there are no books listed for sale. However, it appears that Quaint Book Shop is fairly new (started within the last four years or so it appears), so check in often to see when Roberts’ works are listed.

Another feature this site offers that I find rather helpful is their “For Collectors” page. This page serves as a reference page to other sites that provide such useful information as how to determine the condition of an antique book, how to grade books, book terminology, how to identify first editions, and much more.

Be sure to visit this site for not only future Kenneth Roberts sales, but for other books and helpful collectors information.

Kenneth Roberts in Current News: KHS’ “Sincerely Yours”

For those in and around Kennebunkport, ME, or for those heading up there any time soon, the Kennebunkport Historical Society is displaying a collection of historical letters from Kennebunkport locals and well-knowns, including Kenneth Roberts. Here is the advertisement found in the “Local Arts” section of The Village:

Kennebunkport Historical Society, 125 North St., Kennebunkport. “Sincerely Yours,” a collection of letter spanning Kennebunkport’s history, including those of Booth Tarkington, Kenneth Roberts, U.S. presidents, local families and war letters home. Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information call, 967-2751.

If you happen to visit this exhibit, let us know what you thought of it (particularly the Roberts letters)!

In the Interwebs: Historical Novel Society

My apologies for the lack of posts lately. I thought I would have all sorts of free time after graduation; however, it seems that work (grading, setting up classes, student counseling, writing projects) fills in any “free time.” I am, though, thinking through what constitutes historical fiction (or the historical novel); I’ve been reading Leon Uris’ Trinity this past week and I tell you, I’ve finally found a historical novel that has lived up to the style of Kenneth Roberts. As such, my brain has been going 90-to-nothing lately about historical fiction in general and how this genre can be (and is, in my opinion), a great vehicle for teaching history (something that Kenneth Roberts believed). I plan on writing a post shortly to this end.

As I’ve been doing some we searches, I came across the website for the Historical Novel Society. This website is a great resource for current and past historical novels, articles and speeches given regarding the nature of historical novels, and much more. I’ve not had a chance to look through the site in fine detail, but what I’ve seen is solid work. A particularly helpful article is adapted from a speech by Sarah Johnson of Eastern Illinois University in 2002 titled Defining the Genre: What are the rules for historical fiction? In short, she discusses the bad rap historical novels receive among the press and the lack of a consensus over a definition of “historical fiction.” Johnson concludes:

You may notice that I haven’t completely answered the question of what makes a novel “historical.” I hope this is something that we as authors and readers can continue to speak about. There may never be an exact definition, but I don’t think it prevents us from appreciating the genre any less. And as for more on the elements of a successful historical novel, I’ll leave it to the author members of this panel to continue this discussion. Thank you.

Certainly I don’t seek to definitively answer the question myself, but I hope in the near future to explore the value of historical fiction as a legitimate means of teaching history. What better way to engage one’s mind in learning than by appealing to one’s senses and emotions through narration as opposed to the dry, stilted text books? More to come…

Question: What Other Authors Are Similar to Kenneth Roberts?

I confess, this post is not an informational post. I do not provide insight into a particular novel, or find some gem on the web of some unknown information on Kenneth Roberts. Rather, this is a question from me to you – fellow fans of Kenneth Roberts.

I am currently looking to find some new authors to read, but…I’m rather picky. I find that Kenneth Roberts’ style is right up my alley and find it difficult to find authors with a similar style.  I also find that my years in school have kept me out of the loop of good fiction.  So, here’s my question – what novels do you suggest I look into that are similar to Kenneth Roberts? (I also fiction with philosophical themes (e.g. Leo Tolstoy)).

So, feel free to leave a comment with some suggestions!

A Blast From the Past: Kirkus Review of “Oliver Wiswell”

Book reviews are not one of the most popular forms of reading in today’s abundance of literature. Usually (at least in my circles) they are read by scholars or graduate students as they do research for papers or projects. I must admit, before I began my Ph.D., I had no interest in book reviews; I for sure did not see any value in them other than learning about another person’s opinion about a book.

As I progressed through my Ph.D. studies, I began to develop an appreciation for book reviews. True, they primarily provide one scholar’s view of another’s work; but, they also give a glimpse into the life and time of the author and the subject of the review – they are snippets of history. Here, you also observe the attitudes toward a particular book and its author – attitudes that are generally lost among the innumerable details of the past. It brings to life a particular author, and it sets a book in its context.

YesterdayI came across a book review on Oliver Wiswell written by Kirkus in 1940. According to Kirkusreviews.com, Kirkus was:

Founded in 1933, Kirkus has been an authoritative voice in book discovery for 80 years. Kirkus Reviewsmagazine gives industry professionals a sneak peek at the most notable books being published weeks before they’re released. When the books become available for purchase, Kirkus serves the book reviews to consumers in a weekly email newsletter and on Kirkus.com, giving readers unbiased, critical recommendations they can trust.

The reviewer of Oliver Wiswell gave the book four stars – the highest rating given to a book by the reviewer from Kirkus since three starts was given to Grapes of Wrath (1939). The reviewer says of Oliver Wiswell: “A superb love story — an extraordinary piece of characterization — and a unique background, handled with Roberts’ masterful technique.”  The question is raised, however, if America was ready for such a book – one of the American Revolution told from the perspective of a Loyalist.

Up to the time of Roberts’ writing of Oliver Wiswell, Roberts had no recollection of any book on the American Revolution told from the Loyalist perspective. For Roberts, such a lack betrayed an incomplete view of the Revolution. Roberts was criticized by some for writing from the Loyalist perspective, claiming that Roberts himself was favorable toward England and her cause in the war with the colonies. Nevertheless, Oliver Wiswell quickly became one of Roberts’ more well-known works.

After providing a brieve summary of the novel, the reviewer from Kirkus closes their review with high praise for Roberts’ 1940 novel:

I could quote,endlessly, passages that give the book an incredible timeliness. But I’ll leave it to you — and you — and you. Don’t miss it. This is THE book of the year — the book that gives us a symbol of the ideals which were forged in the crucible and came out a great nation. Roberts has told great stories; he has contributed as much as any and more than most, to our American background. This is his best book.

The reviewer does not shy from providing a glowing endorsement of Roberts’ controversial novel. Particularly noteworthy is that a higher rating was given to Roberts’ work than that given to Grapes of Wrath – a work that eventually outlasted Roberts’ work in the public eye. Steinbeck’s work is still widely read and published relative to Oliver Wiswell, which has all but faded from the memory of American readers.

Perhaps there will be a day when Kenneth Roberts and his works are once again making waves in American culture as was the case in the early- to mid-twentieth century.

First Edition Books: The Seventh Sense

Kenneth Roberts’ first book on water dowsing was Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod; he quickly followed with a sequel titled The Seventh Sense (1953). According to Jack Bales, Henry Gross was given charitable reviews primarily because of Roberts’ reputation as a novelist; however, reviews for The Seventh Sense were not as favorable (Bales, 1993, 100). Noted in The Seventh Sense is Roberts’ hostile tone toward those who disagree with him regarding water dowsing. Roberts takes a rather ad hominem approach to discrediting his critics’ views which dimmed his reputation in the eyes of his colleagues.

Below are pictures of the first-edition of The Seventh Sense. Though not one of Roberts’ most popular works, it is a nice collection piece for those who seek to collect all of Roberts’ books.

Front of Dust Jacket - The Seventh Sense

Title Page - The Seventh Sense

Copyright Info - The Seventh Sense

"Hollis, N.H. / The water supply of this school flows from veins dowsed on a map in Kennebunkport by Henry Gross & Kenneth Roberts November 7, 1951 proved in Hollis November 8, 1951 / Henry Hills / Denton Lates / Irving Simonds / Beryl Orde / Arthur Davis"

“Hollis, N.H. / The water supply of this school flows from veins dowsed on a map in Kennebunkport by Henry Gross & Kenneth Roberts November 7, 1951 proved in Hollis November 8, 1951 / Henry Hills / Denton Lates / Irving Simonds / Beryl Orde / Arthur Davis”

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